Trump Arms Cops Amidst School Shootings and Escalates the War on Terror Abroad
February 1, 2018
Ashley Curtin / NationofChange & Gareth Porter / Truthout & Antiwar.com
There have been 11 school shootings this year alone. And Trump's answer to keep children safe at schools is to supply law enforcement with military gear. The candidate who campaigned on a promise to stop waging foreign wars quickly abandoned his non-intervention vows when the generals' made their pitch for the indefinite continuation of the 16-year-old Afghan war -- and showed Trump photographs of Afghan girls in Kabul in miniskirts to convince him that Western values could prevail in Afghanistan.
Trump to Give Surplus Military Gear to
Law Enforcement to 'Keep Children Safe'
There have been 11 school shootings this year alone.
And Trump's response is to equip law enforcement with more guns.
Ashley Curtin / NationofChange
(January 30, 2018) -- There have been 11 school shootings this year alone. And Trump's answer to keep children safe at schools is to supply law enforcement with military gear.
In a meeting at the White House with mayors last week, Trump began:
"We're also getting you a lot of our excess military equipment, you know all about that . . . . The previous administrations -- but in particular, the previous administration -- they didn't like to do that, and someday they'll explain why. But we had a lot of excess military equipment, we're sending it to your police as they need it, and it's made a tremendous difference."
In August, Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday announced a roll back of the Obama-era restrictions on the transfer of surplus military equipment to police departments across the country.
Under the Law Enforcement Support Office, or the 1033 program, the Pentagon has supplied local police departments from 2006-2014 with "billions of dollars worth of grenade launchers, high-calibur firearms, camouflage gear, and armored personnel carriers used on battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan," according to ThinkProgress.
President Obama put restrictions on such disbursement of surplus military gear in 2015 after police used "militarized tactics" during a protest in Ferguson, Missouri in memory of Michael Brown who was fatally shot by police. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration will lift such restrictions.
Congressman Hank Johnson, US Representative for Georgia's fourth congressional district and a member of the House Armed Services and Judiciary Committees said lifting the restriction was "dangerous" and Trump's "unwise and ill considered executive order" was a "reckless action."
"The Pentagon program creates a pipeline that bypasses normal city council and county commission procurement processes, enabling police departments to acquire expensive-to-maintain and often unneeded military equipment directly from the Pentagon without the approval or even knowledge of government officials elected by citizens, Johnson said in an opinion piece in The Guardian."
While Trump didn't explain why or how surplus military gear would help prevent future school shootings, he said that military weapons would help keep children safe.
"We believe every child deserves to live in safe home, attend a great school, and look forward to an amazing and very very safe future, so you're getting a lot of equipment," he said.
How the Pentagon Enlisted Trump
To Continue Its Perpetual 'War on Terror'
Gareth Porter / Truthout & Antiwar.com
(January 26, 2018) -- The speech by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on January 17 laying out a series of conditions that would make it possible to withdraw US troops from Syria confirmed what had already been revealed by the Pentagon itself: The Trump administration is planning to keep US troops in Syria indefinitely.
Although it was not a comprehensive policy statement, the Tillerson speech completed a months-long process in which the Pentagon has succeeded in enlisting the Trump administration to sign on for a semi-permanent US military engagement in three countries with significant US troops contingents: Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
This trifecta of semi-permanent US military engagements reflects the extraordinary power of the Pentagon to sway even a president who had made opposition to such policies a central element of his campaign.
The Pentagon Gets Its War in Syria
Two months before Tillerson's speech, Secretary of Defense James Mattis had already telegraphed the fact that the US military had been given approval for a long-term commitment in Syria now that ISIS (also known as Daesh) had been defeated and driven out of Raqqa.
In mid-November in a briefing for reporters at the Pentagon, Mattis said that US forces in Syria would fight Islamic State "as long as they have want to fight" and that preventing the return of what he called "ISIS 2.0" was a "longer-term objective." He even suggested that US forces would remain to help establish conditions for a diplomatic solution. "We're not going to walk away before the Geneva process has traction," said Mattis.
In another briefing for reporters in late December, Mattis said that the US forces in Syria would be "shifting from an offensive, terrain-seizing approach, to a stabilizing" role.
Tillerson's talk was a political gloss on what the Pentagon had already begun planning to do. It provided a series of reasons for the US military to maintain a long-term presence in Syria, while at the same time giving it maximum latitude to avoid getting into a war with Iranian, Russian or Syrian forces.
Tillerson presented the US presence in Syria as necessary to ensure that not only ISIS but al-Qaeda in Syria will "suffer an enduring defeat" -- a new term suggesting that the military mission would continue to be counter-terrorism. The reality, as Mattis had already announced, was that the US military is planning to be involved in postwar"stabilization" -- something Trump had denounced during the campaign -- for many years.
The Tillerson gloss struck the obligatory anti-Iran chord, vowing that US troops would remain until Iranian influence in Syria has been "diminished." Mentioning that objective was an obvious way to justify a long-term US military presence in Syria, since no one believes that Iranian influence in Syria will be diminished in the coming years.
Despite its obvious bow to the administration's anti-Iran-war constituency, the word "diminished" was clearly chosen as an alternative to other possible formulations that would have been supported by pro-Israeli figures and institutions lobbying the administration. It reflects the Pentagon's interest in averting war against the Assad regime or its Iranian allies and its determination to keep its intervention in Syria focused on terrorism and avoid getting involved in forcible regime change.
In the early months of the Trump administration, Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford rejected a proposal from National Security Council staffers for US military intervention against Assad.
And in June 2017, the US-led coalition fighting ISIS actually welcomed the likely Syrian and Iranian-supported forces entering the city of Deir ez-Zor, which had been under ISIS occupation, rejecting any idea of seeking to preempt such a move militarily. That determination to avoid being drawn into a war against Iran or Syria has remained unchanged through 2017.
Tillerson enunciated a vision of regime change in Syria that would bring about the departure of Assad and his family not by force, but through "an incremental process of constitutional reform and UN-sponsored elections." He did not address the multiple violent political-military conflicts involving Turkey, the Kurds, the remnants of al-Qaeda-led opposition forces and the Assad regime, which is very likely to suck the United States into new and dangerous waters if it maintains a military presence in the region.
The Pentagon Ends Trump's Anti-Interventionist Themes
The Trump administration's clear commitment to open-ended US war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria adds Trump to the list of presidents who opposed wars only to ultimately give in to the war state bureaucracy under persistent pressure. John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Barack Obama had all been skeptical about war proposals on Vietnam and Afghanistan, respectively. But both before and immediately after becoming president, Trump had expressed strong and explicit antagonism toward the idea of indefinite wars.
In a 2013 tweet, as he was contemplating a run for the presidency, Trump declared, "Let's get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghans we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA."
In a speech devoted to foreign policy during the 2016 primary election, Trump attacked war policies in Iraq, Libya and Syria as destructive of societies and creating unnecessary threats to the United States. "We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed," he declared, adding that the US had created a "vacuum . . . that ISIS would fill," along with Iran.
After he had won the presidential election, moreover, Trump did not abandon those anti-intervention themes. In the last speech on his "victory tour" in December 2016, Trump said "intervention and chaos" must "come to an end." He vowed, "We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we knew nothing about, that we shouldn't be involved with. Instead our focus must be on defeating terrorism and destroying ISIS, and we will."
Trump asserted that past policies had "depleted" the US military, "because we're all over the place fighting in areas we shouldn't be fighting in." He also declared that, instead of investing in wars, he would spend the money on rebuilding the US's crumbling infrastructure.
Once Mattis took over at the Pentagon, however, he and Dunford, along with National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, began a campaign to get Trump to abandon his opposition to semi-permanent US military interventions in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.
By April 2017, US officials were already engaged in discussions with governments in Afghanistan and Iraq on agreements for what US military officials were calling "open-ended commitments" of US troops in those countries -- despite expectations that ISIS would soon be decisively defeated in its Iraqi and Syrian urban strongholds.
Afghanistan was the subject of the most acute tensions between the White House and the national security bureaucracy. The military bureaucracy was determined to obtain the deployment of many more troops and, even more important, unlimited time to carry out the US-sponsored war.
But for the next four months, Trump -- encouraged by political adviser Steve Bannon to remain true to his political base -- refused to give his approval to any of the proposals.
Trump's national security team became "alarmed" about Trump's persistent questioning of the need for what they called a "robust American presence around the world," according to an Associated Press account.
On July 20, his advisers took Trump and Bannon into "the Tank" -- the small room in the Pentagon where the Joint Chiefs of Staff meet regularly -- and used charts and diagrams to drive home their message that the forward deployments of troops, spies and diplomats was necessary to "make the world safe for American businesses."
In August, however, the administration's crisis over the proposed unending war across the Middle East and Afghanistan came to a head, as Bannon sought to use his connections with the Zionist Organization of America to oust McMaster, claiming that he was not supportive of Israel's interests.
Bannon's scheme collapsed, however, when Trump's biggest campaign donor, arch-Likudist Sheldon Adelson, refused to support it. Suddenly, Bannon became much more politically vulnerable, and by the end of the month, he was forced out of the White House.
At the climactic meeting on Afghanistan at Camp David in mid-August, from which Bannon was excluded, Mattis, McMaster and Dunford pressed their advantage. Trump's opposing stance to intervention dissolved completely. He did not question the generals' plans for the indefinite continuation of the 16-year-old war, which they presented as necessary to prevent ISIS and al-Qaeda from having a "safe haven" in Afghanistan.
They also showed Trump 1972 photographs of Afghan girls in Kabul in miniskirts to convince him that Western values could prevail in Afghanistan.
Without an aide capable of seeing through the Pentagon's deceptions, Trump who is well known for a deferential attitude toward senior generals, was a pushover. Announcing the Afghanistan decision a few days later, Trump repeated what he had been told at Camp David. "We must stop the resurgence of safe havens that allow terrorists to threaten America," he declared.
Once they had turned Trump on Afghanistan, the Pentagon could rely on a simple argument to ensure his compliance with their plans for Syria and Iraq: liken any Trump interference in the war bureaucracy's plan for open-ended US wars in Iraq and Syria to Obama's policy of completing the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2011.
Tillerson emphasized that point in his speech: "We cannot make the same mistakes that were made in 2011 when a premature departure from Iraq allowed al-Qaeda in Iraq to survive and eventually morph into ISIS," he declared.
Thus, did Trump consent to the Pentagon's plans for permanent US wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
The New Pentagon Business Model
The permanent wars in those three countries represent, in effect, a new Pentagon business model for those regions. The model looks for far more payoff in term of congressional appropriations -- as well as power at home and abroad in relation to budgetary and political costs -- than the Pentagon obtained from waging the big wars of the past in Iraq and Afghanistan. It counts on US casualties remaining relatively small, because combat will take the form of bombings or Special Operations attacks.
Low US casualties are crucial to the new model, because most Americans are not convinced such US military endeavors are necessary or good for this country. A Morning Consult/Politico poll in August 2017 found only 40 percent supportive of additional troops for Afghanistan, while 32 percent wanted complete withdrawal from the war, with the remaining 28 percent unsure.
That reality will certainly require the Pentagon to exercise tighter control over information. Already, the Department of Defense has moved to classify data about Afghan security forces, so it will be more difficult to criticize the US effort as a failure.
In order to avoid large-scale criticism, the Pentagon will likely also need to cover up the actual scale of civilian casualties from Special Operations raids and bombings by the United States, as has occurred in the past in Afghanistan, and has occurred again in regard to the US-led coalition bombing of ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq since 2014.
The new Pentagon model is taking advantage of a malleable president to prolong the war bureaucracy's extraordinary increase in control over resources and power, which it has already enjoyed for more than 16 years. It may succeed in terms of bureaucratic interests, but at great cost to the people of the United States -- and at even greater cost to the people of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the US war in Afghanistan. His new book is Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.